By Phurbu Thinley
For a week every August, the Lithang Horse Festival displays Tibetan culture through spectacular horse races and mesmerizing traditional dances of the region. Lithang is in Kham province (Sichuan) of Tibet.
Dharamsala, July 22: A Tibetan nomad from Lithang was arrested in Tibet yesterday for staging political demonstration during an official function, according to Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).
According to confirmed information received by TCHRD, Ronggay A'drak, a Tibetan nomad from Lithang was arrested for staging political demonstration during the official function for the 80th Founding Anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) organised by the Lithang County Government on Wednesday (August 1, 2007).
A large number of people from Lithang area were reported to have come to witness the official function and the famous annual horse race festival popular in the area.
Just before the start of the official function at around 11:00am, when the Chief guest, other officials and the general public were present, Ronggay A'drak, a 52-year-old Tibetan nomad from Youru Village, Lithang County, Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture(TAP), went up to the stage to offer a traditional Tibetan scarf to Lithang Kyabgyon- the Chief Lama of Lithang Monastery. Ronggay A'drak then seized the microphone and, before a large gathering, shouted slogans like; "The Dalai Lama should return to Tibet", "Release Panchen Lama", "Tibet wants Independence".
He then insisted on Tibetan people to stop fighting among themselves on the land, water dispute and on the collection of Yartsa Gunbu
, a caterpillar fungus [Tib: Yartsa Gunbu, Botanical name: cordyceps sinensis].
Last month, the Associated Press reported that a gun battle between Tibetan groups feuding over access to the lucrative wild caterpillar fungus left up to six people dead and more than 110 injured in a Tibetan area of Sichuan Province. The fighting is said to have broke out after County officials made no move to intervene, despite knowledge of the conflicting tension in the area over the land demarcation.
Later, Ronggay A'drak climbed down from the stage and in the presence of the Officials and whole crowd, went straight to Naglu Tenzin, a monk who is said to be actively involved in the Chinese "Patriotic education campaign" and told him to denounce his double standard in dealing with the religious affairs of the monastery.
A’drak then climbed back to the stage and continued shouting slogans which made the general public to join him in unison. He was finally arrested by Kardze local police and was taken away to an unknown place.
According to TCHRD’s press statement, sensing fear for the safety of Ronggay A'drak, scores of people from Lithang Yonru Village went to Lithang County Office to demand his immediate release and to ascertain his whereabouts and condition. They even demonstrated inside the compound of the County office calling for his immediate release and respect of Tibetan people's right to freedom of expression and opinion.
Like this one in Amdo, annual horse racing festivals are popular in the Kham and Amdo regions of Tibet. Hundreds of Tibetans will flock together at a camping site to witness and participate in days of colourful traditional dances and horse races.
According to the centre’s statement, quoting reliable sources, few people even broke into the County Office to demand for his immediate release. Sensing further escalation of tension, the police officer even threatened the villagers by firing pistol into the air.
The Tibetan people, unmoved by the threats, weathered incessant rain on that day to proceed forward with their demand. It was learnt that the villagers finally returned to their place only after the officials agreed to release Ronggay A'drak the next day at 2:00pm.
Quoting another source, TCHRD’s press release states, "While returning to their place, the villagers called for Tibetans, followers of the Dalai Lama and pro-independence to join them. And they even told that if the authorities did not release Ronggay A'drak today by 2:00pm they will organize a mass demonstration in front of the detention centre “no matter how much restriction officials put on them."
The situation in Lithang County is known to be very tense. Strangely, this time the local officials’ compliance with the demands of local Tibetans was unprecedented. However, it is difficult to predict the future course of the case.
TCHRD has expressed its deepest concern at the arrest of Ronggay A'drak for exercising his political rights and has demanded his immediate release.
“The People's Republic of China (PRC) should abide by the rights guaranteed in the constitution and other major international covenants and treaties which she is party to,” TCHRD’s press release urges.
Stating, “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right which is a prerequisite to the enjoyment of all human rights,” in its statement, TCHRD has called upon the support of human rights groups and the international community in securing A’drak’s release.
The Centre deems the case as an outright clampdown on the freedom of opinion and expression and says that it will continue to monitor the situation and would update on the issue as and when further information surfaces.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is the first Tibetan non-governmental organization (NGO) to be formed with the mission "to highlight the human rights situation in Tibet and to promote principles of democracy in the Tibetan community." TCHRD is independent of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and is based in Dharamsala, India.For further information visit: www.tchrd.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org